It is simultaneously comforting and disconcerting to see armed troops at America's airports. It is frightening to hear political leadership flatly predict there will be another terrorist attack following American and British strikes against suspected Taliban positions in Afghanistan. President Bush has properly balanced righteous anger with redemption by dropping ordinance on our enemies and food and medicine on those Afghanis who are not.
One Washington, D.C. radio station carried a lengthy program recently featuring "experts" advising listeners how to respond to a chemical or biological attack: Retreat to a low-level bathroom; use wet towels to filter out toxins in the air; turn off air conditioning and heating systems so as not to circulate poisoned air; seal doors and vents with tape. We're not yet in a state of panic, but we are jittery. Airline passengers engage in their own version of ethnic profiling. Some noticeably stiffen as a bearded man heads toward the cockpit; the toilet is located at the front of the plane.
What will be the response when the predicted second (and third and fourth?) terrorist attack comes? Will we regret the day we opted for "tolerance" over security and the obligation of our government to protect its own citizens before anything else?
Before we consider suspension of civil liberties, let's get serious about enforcing the U.S. immigration laws already on the books and empowering our leaders to fight the war that has been all but officially declared.
The New York Times reported last Saturday that one of the alleged conspirators in the Sept. 11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui, a French-Algerian, was arrested Aug. 17 on charges of violating immigration laws, but FBI lawyers refused to let their agents open a criminal investigation, even though Moussaoui fit the profile of a suspicious person and may have been someone the FBI and CIA were looking for. Several domestic and foreign intelligence agencies had warned American officials that Moussaoui might be dangerous because he held "Islamic extremist beliefs."
How many people, especially from countries where many wish us harm, are in this country on expired visas? They should be rounded up and immediately deported. We must then strengthen our borders. Whether through the use of more troops, electronic fences or other technological tools, the United States must look after its own, not exclusively, but first. The greatness of America is being sullied by people who do not share its values or its history. They are free to hold their grievances and believe that America is to blame for their own failures and the poverty of the countries from which they come. They just shouldn't be allowed to do it here.
It used to be assumed that when the tired and poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free arrived on these shores, they would accept, adopt, believe and blend in with the values that made this country a magnet for them. For many, perhaps most, that remains their intention. But for those who come here seeking to undermine us -- including people who seek to subtract from, not add to, the common strength that is our foundation -- break their part of the unwritten contract. They and their front organizations should be expelled. Dissent, yes. Disunity and sedition, no.
It is troubling when the government asks for more powers to invade privacy and monitor its own citizens' behavior. But at some point, one must rely on the decency of our leaders to do the right thing in the face of great evil. Congress should give Attorney General John Ashcroft the powers he believes are needed for law enforcement agencies to conduct the kind of warfare required to reduce the terrorist threat among us. It's one thing to die in a declared war to fight America's enemies. It's another to die because too many are afraid to properly equip our leaders with the weapons they need to fight the battle. Regular review of stricter surveillance laws by the appropriate congressional committees could be conducted so that when the
threat passes the powers can be diminished, as necessary.
We owe this not only to the thousands who have already unjustly died and to their grieving families and friends. We also owe it to the living if we are to preserve, protect and defend ourselves from the next attack, and the one(s) after that.